Update (June 10): The Ottawa Globe and Mail reports that Canada's new religious freedom office and its ambassador, Andrew Bennett, face an "uphill battle" in China, a key trading partner. The paper notes that "it remains to be seen how much independence the religious freedom watchdog will have in a Conservative government known for controlling the message."
Update (Feb. 21): A leading Canadian Christian think tank has affirmed the choice of Andrew Bennet as the new ambassador. "It was a surprise to me. I know Andrew. He's very thoughtful and very principled. He will bring a great deal to the position," said Cardus senior fellow Janet Epp Buckingham in an interview. She also offered advice on what Bennett's first three projects should be.
Meanwhile, others have questioned Bennet's academic credentials.
Two years after Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper promised to create a religious freedom office as part of his campaign platform, the government has finally given it a leader.
Ottawa academic and Ukrainian Catholic Andrew Bennett will "serve as Ottawa's official watchdog for international religious persecution," according to the Globe and Mail. The Office of Religious Freedom, which will have a four-person staff and $5 million annual budget, will operate as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Religion News Service reports that the office has been criticized as a "misguided attempt to inject religion into foreign policy, and some have expressed concern that it would be biased toward the persecution of Christians."
Yet Bennett, who "was reportedly the third, possibly fourth, person to be offered the post," said Tuesday that he doesn't plan to get mired in Canadian politics.
"My role is not to get involved in all the aspects of Canadian foreign policy and commercial policy," he said at a press conference announcing the job. "My role is to promote religious freedom. This is not about a theological question. It's about a human question. It's a human issue, not a theological issue."
Don Hutchison, vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, wants the ambassador to revise Canada's immigration policies for those fleeing religious persecution. CT has reported several cases where Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board denied asylum because applicants demonstrated poor knowledge of Christian doctrine. CT also reported how a Thanksgiving question nearly deported a tortured Chinese Christian from the United States.
CT previously noted how Canada's plan to open the religious freedom office was ironically timed in 2011, coming just as debate arose over the possible shutdown of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. CT also noted the multi-year delay in the Obama administration appointing its own ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, Suzan Johnson-Cook, who landed the job after two tries.
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